Last week, a new law in New Zealand, the Customs and Excise Act 2018, gave customs officials the power to confiscate and retain digital devices and request passwords so information can be read and cloned. Refusal to comply can result in tourists being hit with a fine of up to NZ$5000. And while you can appeal later, the reality is once your unlocked device has been handed over your data, and any data that connects you to other people such as email or instant messages are no longer private. This is a sign of increasingly invasive laws permeating our society.
The NZ Council for Civil Liberties has responded to the new law pointing out “Modern smartphones contain a large amount of highly sensitive private information including emails, letters, medical records, personal photos, and very personal photos. Allowing Customs to be able to demand the right to examine and capture all this information is a grave invasion of personal privacy of both the person who owns the device and the people they have communicated with.”
One our side of the Tasman Sea, we’ve seen the federal government make repeated attempts to circumvent encryption as well as commence massive data collection through the metadata retention program.
In short, law enforcement agencies are doing a better job of lobbying governments to provide them with increasingly powerful tools while those who fight for our privacy are often marginalised or demeaned as being weak on security.
The new rules in New Zealand are a significant escalation in my view. They apply to anyone entering the country with customs officials having the right to access devices if they have a suspicion that the person is of interest to law enforcement. And while law says the need reasonable cause, they don’t have to prove this before confiscating the device and you don’t have a right to appeal or refuse.
The worry is that other countries like Australia may see this as a precedent and introduce their own lows, just as customs agencies around the world now use body scanners when you enter departure areas.
Why do you think? Are these reasonable laws or do they represent a bridge too far in the ongoing erosion of our right to privacy?